I was hired, after doing a few projects for Interview Magazine, by the then editor Ingrid Sischy to “cover” the Haute Couture fashion shows in Paris in 2008 for turned out to be her last issue of her historic time for the magazine. I was more than moved and honored, and jumped at the opportunity, despite my feelings towards a “movement” from some years before called “Art and Fashion”. In the late 90’s, when people were talking about this, I felt it was egregious, that for wealthy people who could buy a Prada coat, they could use the same money to buy a painting, and just like when the coat would go out of style they could throw it away, that they could do the same for the painting. I felt that art is forever, while fashion was temporary, and art was About Something, had content, whereas fashion was just that—about trends and the temporary, about making something look good without necessarily being about anything. In doing my research, I realized I was wrong, in part, as the great designers really did work like artists, not only in producing work for shows that happened throughout the years, but also in researching their history (both art and cultural) and making work that WAS about something, that in some cases, could really change history. And that the paparazzi and fashion photographers were recording these events in magazines for the world—where very few people may have access to Artforum or read or look at it, MANY people looked at and read VOGUE, and if art, in part, was about creating dreams for people and new ideas about thinking, so did fashion, but for the multitudes and not for just a few. So I got over it! But it was fascinating, being there, being backstage, and in the beginnings of the recession, when the bubble was about to burst, living on our credit cards in a world of high fashion, spending, and incredibly wealthy people, it reminded me of the artworld, and our bohemian circumstance as artists living in a fortress serving the other half, the one percent of the one percenters. In doing so, I related to the models—who like Andrew and I, were flying coach, and working their butts off in all of these shows, trying to pull themselves up from their bootstraps with what they had. Backstage at the Dior show (before John Galliano went crazy, perhaps being wound up in a world that does privileged style sometimes over substance!) I befriended this model from Latvia, who in her broken English, smoking a cigarette in her off time, done up in a wig and sequined makeup, was telling me of her blight coming from her war-torn country to this glamorous tent in the polo grounds of the Bois de Boulogne, in the most exclusive arena of this glamour world. We really got along, but I forget her name but was able to capture this brief moment were we were relating, her top in high fashion but wearing a simple sweater over a t-shirt as she was waiting to get dressed, telling me her real story before she became a goddess.
I always admired how the Modernists would embrace the circus as an allegorical way of talking about their current culture, by use of the theatrical staging of the circus, where in a carnivalesque manner, all conventions were thrown in the air to see them anew. Although Degas is politically problematic with his images of women in torqued positions (that he was misogynistic ally “consuming, cannibalizing” as he took in their image that would be painful to hold to then paint it, you still can’t “throw the baby out with the bathwater” and of course they are amazing images, some of which like this one used photography as their source for inspiration. I think our contemporary world of fashion is like their world of the circus, so much of the politics and fantasies of our time is wrapped up in the pomp and circumstance of these high fashion events.
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Edgar Degas, Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando, 1879, National Gallery, Washington, D.C.
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Calder Circus, 1926-31, Whitney Collection.